Before We Leave
Chapter 1: A Family Divided
Daniel turned from the stallion he was breaking for his employer, Jeremiah “Red” O’Neal, with a wide smile on his face and his grey eyes alight with pleasure. “That is one fine horse…” The smile died as he saw the set look on Red’s face. Daniel’s sixth sense signaled danger and this time danger came from his employer and half-brother, if his white mother and MacDonald were to be believed. The Comanche raid when Daniel was eight had broken all ties with his white family.
When his Comanche family was captured by the U.S. Army, he was recognized as white and sent to a fort in Kansas. There he had taken the surname Hunter. He refused to acknowledge his white mother and that reputed stranger from a planet among the stars named as his father. He couldn’t explain the two hearts his brother Lorenz, sister Margareatha, and possibly half-brother, Red, possessed while he did not. He simply ignored that fact.
Red stopped in front of the young man. “You stepped over the line, boy. Now you’ll get a lesson.” Red drove his fist into the young man’s stomach.
Daniel twisted his body out of the way, not sure why the attack was under way, but knowing his chances weren’t good. He whirled back, his left coming up towards Red’s chin. He missed by less than an inch, and felt a fist smash into his nose. Desperately, he swung into Red’s rib cage driving the older man back. Red shrugged and dove in again, his fists slamming into Daniel one after another.
Neither Red nor Daniel heard Margareatha screaming. “Let him alone you barbarian, or I’ll blow your head off, so help me God!”
It was the sharp thud alongside of his head that made Red step back and lower his fists. Then he saw her standing there, shotgun in hand. He spread his hands out. “Miss Lawrence, this is a private matter.”
“Private, be damned. He’s my brother.” Her mind raked into his, scalding and scathing him with anger as she used mindspeak.
‘And he’s yours too, if you have wit enough to remember we have the same father. Do you want Mac pounding on your head like you’ve pounded his?’ The shotgun remained pointed directly at his chest. The men at the corrals were shifting uneasily, not knowing whether to draw against a woman or let the boss play this one out on his own.
Red considered. Daniel was on the ground and bleeding from the nose and mouth. He had executed several well-placed kicks and knew there were broken ribs. Margareatha was right. Any more and he would have MacDonald as an adversary. Lorenz, he discounted as too young to be any more of a threat than Daniel. “Someone put him on a horse and get him out of here.”
“Wrong. They bring him to my house.” The shotgun never wavered. “He doesn’t leave here until I say he’s well enough to travel.”
Red glared at her. Both stood an even six feet and their gaze was level. “This is my ranch.”
“Just who do you think you are Red O’Neal? Your books can rot if that’s your attitude.”
Red blanched. He needed her. There was no way he could explain to another bookkeeper the shipments of grain to nowhere on earth or the sudden disappearance of certain people within his businesses and the regular changing of gold and silver into currency.
“Very well, take him to Miss Lawrence’s house.” He turned and walked away.
Margareatha did not appear in the office for almost a week. When she did, she flounced in and put both hands on her hips, her tall frame almost reaching to the top of the door and the sun flaming her red hair into a fiery glow around her head.
“Daniel’s better, but it will be another week before the ribs heal enough that he can leave. Now suppose you enlighten us as to what you thought you were doing.”
Red threw down the pencil and looked up. He knew his efforts at the accounts were slow and clumsy compared to Margareatha’s neat columns. “Margareatha, Daniel and Antoinette were planning on getting married. My mother has been crying for weeks and spending even more time on her knees in front of the Virgin’s shrine than she has done previously. Her fingers are almost bleeding from the number of times she’s said the rosary. What did you expect me to do? Tell Daniel he couldn’t go near her again? They would have devised someway to disgrace us all.”
Margareatha regarded him with a look reserved for the insane. “You are totally mad. Antoinette doesn’t give two whoops about Daniel. He’s too crude and too poor.”
Red stood up. “I’m afraid you don’t have the same information from Antoinette’s private quarters as I do. Antoinette will be leaving for the convent in New Orleans within the next two days.”
Margareatha smiled to herself and let the perfect revenge play out in her mind. She knew exactly what Antoinette was planning. Aloud, she said, “Suit yourself. I may return when Daniel is well enough to travel.” She spun on her heel and walked out, steadfastly refusing to let Red mindspeak to her. Red was blinded by his own male prejudices, she thought. Let him continue to delude himself.
Four weeks ago Antoinette had brought a letter addressed to Lorenz, pleading with her to mail it. Margareatha had done so. She remembered all too well the convent life that she had been confined to so long ago.
Chapter 2: Flight
For once the trunks were minimal when Antoinette traveled. Consuela would be her companion all the way to New Orleans and have control of the money. Red made sure that Antoinette’s horse and saddle were securely kept under guard. Both he and the Senora heaved a sigh of relief when the stage rolled out of Wooden. Daniel was just barely able to sit up and the men had orders to shoot if he left within the week. Red was confident he’d covered every possibility. Right now, he needed Margareatha back at the books as he had another grain buying trip to complete before heading to Galveston to arrange the shipping to a South American warehouse.
They had been in the stage for four days before Antoinette began to be anxious. They were but two days away from Houston and the boat taking her to New Orleans. She had been praying to the Virgin, the Saints, and the Holy Trinity that Lorenz had received her letter in time. He should have, but where was he? She couldn’t see him riding up and stopping the stage, and she certainly didn’t want anyone to be injured. Consuela sat prim and perspiring in the summer heat, her dark clothes drawing in more heat. Antoinette dabbed daintily at her brow with her hanky as they bounced and jolted over the roads.
The driver pulled the horses into the stage stop as close to noon as possible. “Everybody out. You all have thirty minutes to eat while we get the horses changed.”
Antoinette stepped down and brushed the dust from her clothes and swallowed. A tall, young man was standing by the corrals with a saddled horse. He tugged at the front brim of his hat and walked the animal behind the wooden stable. “I believe I need to use the facilities,” she whispered to Consuela and noted the look of relief on the older woman’s face.
Consuela tried to keep up with the long strides Antoinette was taking and failed. The outhouse for women was set off to the side and Antoinette scooted in first and locked the door. She hurriedly did what nature demanded, exited, and let Consuela in. She nodded at the other woman waiting and walked briskly to the back of the stable.
Lorenz smiled at her, his grey eyes glowing; the scar on his right cheek dragging the lip line upward, and her heart went to her throat. Strange, that was all he had to do, smile.
“Let’s go.” He boosted her up onto the horse before swinging up behind her. He held his horse to a trot until they were over the rise and then kicked it into a gallop. They rode into a small, hidden gully and Lorenz collected two more horses; one carefully laden with camp goods, the second equipped with a regular saddle and bridle for her. She hooked her leg around the saddle horn as sitting astride would have shown too much leg. Later, when she had time to think, Antoinette would wonder how he knew to wait for her at that stage stop with the extra horses and equipment hidden away.
They rode steadily for an hour and then walked the horses. Lorenz seemed to be deep in thought, but his eyes kept searching the surrounding landscape. Finally as the sun began to set, he found a small, wooded area and they dismounted.
“I’m afraid this will be a grueling trip for y’all.” His concern showed in his eyes. “We’ll have to keep a steady pace for days. I don’t think anyone is following us, but we’ll eat a cold supper tonight just in case.”
“Ah’m a Texan.” Antoinette smiled at him. “Were y’all able to bring me anything in the way of clothes?”
“I didn’t have time to find anything for ladies.” He looked at her doubtfully. “I threw in an extra pair of my trousers and a shirt. Y’all can roll up the trousers. There’s also a regular hat. It’s a little beat up, but it will be better than that doodad on your head.”
Antoinette considered. “Ah believe ah’ll try your clothes for the journey.”
Lorenz started to pull the saddles and turned back to her. “Uh, Antoinette, y’all aren’t going to change your mind, are y’all?
She stared at him, disbelief spreading over her face. “Never! They were going to lock me away in that convent.” For one brief moment her drawl had disappeared. Then she smiled. “Besides, ah’m a marked woman now.”
“Antoinette, I won’t do anything to hurt y’all, and I promise we will be married before…” Lorenz started to redden and turned to the horses, lips compressed. He’d promised himself that he would conduct himself as a gentleman in word and deed.
His resolve almost broke the sixth night after they’d eaten. Antoinette was bone weary from the days of riding, sleeping on the ground, and quickly prepared camp food. Her movements were listless and the laughter gone from her violet eyes. Lorenz took her in his arms to comfort her and suddenly she was holding him tightly and he was tasting her lips, the dusty cheeks, his tongue seeking hers, and his hands starting to move over her while he kept whispering, “I love y’all, Antoinette, Antoinette.”
He never knew how he managed to break away, but somehow he was walking rapidly uphill to the small crest above their camp.
Antoinette found herself blinking, her breath coming in and out of her mouth as she stood stunned, watching him move away from her. After a few moments, she followed him upward and found him sitting cross-legged, his arms crossed in front of him as he sat rocking back and forth. She could see his profile, so perfect, so clean in the moonlight, his face drawn taunt from pain. Should she approach him? She had no other clothes except her dress which she intended to put on the last day. She had listened to the servants’ chatter in Spanish and remembered that they talked about the “blood.” That was frightening, but the married ones had spoken of it with a certain satisfaction. Obviously, there were things she didn’t know. There was no bed, basin, or clean rags here.
Antoinette could not stand the agony stamped on his face and as she drew nearer she reached out her hand to touch his shoulder. “Lorenz?”
“Antoinette, go away.”
His words were sharp, and she turned on her heel, fled back to the camp, and pulled the thin cover over herself, a small smile playing on her face. It was a heady experience to discover just how much he loved and respected her. She knew they had by passed the town of Arles and it would be just a couple of days before they were at his ranch. Briefly, she wondered what Red was doing and decided sleep was better than needless worry.
Consuela realized Antoinette was gone when she walked into the restaurant portion of the stage stop. No one paid any attention to the excited voice of a middle-aged Mexican senora until she started screaming. Finally the driver confirmed that the young woman was gone. There were no spare men to send out on a search party and a schedule had to be kept.
Her attempt to telegraph Mr. O’Neal involved the same mindless fight against the prejudices of the white men running the telegraph office in the next town. Consuela finally prevailed by paying double the price of the regular telegram and was left short of funds.
It took another two days for the telegram to be delivered to the plantation turned ranch. One of the maids timidly knocked on his door. Red’s satisfied mood shifted to absolute fury. Rapidly he wrote a note to sheriff in Wooden about an abducted female. He hurried to find his Mother, soothe her, and then it was time to confront Margareatha.